STEAL THIS (WORK)BOOK






In talking with a friend of mine recently, I said something like "I can't imagine why you'd ever make your workbooks not downloadable, unless a client forbade you from sharing the data."


This was an unconsidered statement made in the heat of the moment; and I disagree with myself, because there are obvious reasons.


We all have colleagues and friends whose livelihood relies, in part or in whole, on the work they demonstrate on Public. For them to lose control over their work--to see it propagated and, let's use this word, plagiarized--is a direct blow to their professional standing. And as they become more popular, reaching more and more people, they find themselves suffering these affronts more and more frequently.


As a result, they have to devote mental energy and time to tracking down and calling out and seeking recompense from these bad actors. In some cases, they've been forced to lock down their Public work, which was intended to be of benefit to the creator community, but is no longer available.


It's unfortunate to lose these resources; and it's disappointing when people who have been helpful and giving with their technical knowledge and skill are worn down, to the point where protecting their work from even the possibility of being exploited becomes a rational response; it's an understandable, if lamentable, reaction to consistently being taken advantage of by unethical people.





When I said "I can't imagine why you'd lock down your workbooks," I was looking only from my own perspective, my own place in the Tableau-verse. Correctly or not, I don't think I lose as much value from people downloading my workbooks as other people in different situations do. So the blanket statement I made above is not true, and I don't stand by it.


I should only speak for myself; and speaking for myself, these things ARE true:


  • I can search for my visualizations on Tableau Public and see that other people have taken them and uploaded them to their own accounts.


  • I can also see that people have taken elements of what I've done and incorporated those elements into their own work, sometimes with attribution and sometimes without.


  • Every publicly-available, slightly-changed version that a person publishes of something I originally created does, indisputably, dilute the effect and value of my original work.


And yet: Every workbook I have on Tableau Public is fully downloadable. And I expect this will remain true as long as I'm the person who gets to make those decisions unilaterally.





I'd like to think that the value in my work, as presented on Tableau Public, is not in the calculations, or the layout techniques, or any of the things that can be learned just by cracking open a .twbx file.


I'd like to believe that the value is in


  • demonstrating how your original data often needs additional context to deliver a compelling product


  • putting forth a new perspective on a familiar topic


  • displaying visually arresting, but thematically appropriate, aesthetics in support of a specific message


  • showing how to be precise with your analyses, without overstepping what the data actually can support


  • using color, layout, interactivity, and text to clarify the product's findings and improve the experience of consuming the visualization



...and other lessons that are, in all cases, specific to an individual data set. Downloading one workbook won't teach how to apply any of these lessons to the next project.


You can't steal process.


You can't appropriate creativity.


You can't pilfer analytic rigor.


Sure, there are technical methods buried in my workbooks--convoluted, poorly-documented, and most likely previously executed (and blogged about) by any number of other people. Maybe you'll learn from that. Who knows?


The upshot is, if you're downloading my workbooks with bad intentions, you're almost by definition not learning any of the lessons, and you won't be able to replicate anything you find in them, so enjoy your future of over-promising and under-delivering.


And not to sound arrogant, but: I'm pretty sure I can make more of these. So if you take the old ones...you know, whatever, friend. Best of luck to you in all your future endeavors.




Naively or not, I choose to believe in the essential goodness of the world, and I have the luxury of being able to absorb the drawbacks of being exploited by a few unethical actors in exchange for providing assistance, inspiration, or plain old goodwill to the ethical majority.


So if you're going to be unethical and pass my work off as your own, I know I can't really stop you. All I would suggest that you do is remember to delete my name and/or face from the bottom of the viz, where it inevitably is, because: A, it'll be hard to pass of something as your own when it says "DESIGN Mike Cisneros" on it; and B, if you can bring yourself to actively remove the creator's own name and credits from the viz and pass it off as your own, then you, and the rest of us, will truly know where your ethical line is.










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